Hiroshi Hase: Hase is probably the most overlooked great in-ring worker of Japan's 1990's golden era. His abilities and athleticism have been compared to Kobashi in the past. However, he was not regarded as such within NJ. First he was considered an excellent Jr. until Liger and contemporaries changed the style. He was a heavyweight but, would only see tag teams success. That seems very good but, compare that to the successes of his peers in NJ and even AJ at the time. Its clear that he wasn't used to his full potential as a singles star. His political career surely had an effect especially later in the 90's but, this could be a chicken or egg situation.
If we look back through time, we see he was very adaptable to whatever division or style was in vogue. He could do the traditional NJ Choshu style against UWF guys ('88 classic with Takada), tag teamer (early 90s matches against Steiners) as well as do the evolution of Strong style (the brilliant '94 IWGP match vs. Hashimoto). In addition to this, he helped put the Muta character on the map in Japan. It was no small feat and Hase's skills helped frame the legendary villain in an era where the over the top heels were being phased out.
Its unfortunate that he has not been lauded as an all time NJ great. I think his work in AJPW, although brief, is fantastic and a direct line to what the Hashimoto title match showed. His limitations were not in skill but, in booking. He's one of my personal favorites. Charismatic, talented storyteller and a hell of a wrestler. Here is a sampling of the good stuff:
Hiroshi Hase vs. Keichi Yamada (02/04/88 NJPW): A fun, smart, well wrestled match. Each man picked his opponent apart as best they could. Of course Yamada had his moves from the top rope but, Hase surprised me with some of his maneuvers. He was pretty brutal as he was still a protégé of Riki Chosu. This of course wasnt the classic one would hope for but, it was pretty good stuff. I just wish it could have gone on longer as it was just starting to pick up when it ended. Thats really the only knock on this match but, this tendency to go-home around 10 minutes is an 80s Jrs. thing.
Nobuhiko Takada vs Hiroshi Hase (03/11/88 NJPW): I was expecting a mat wrestling clinic but um...we didn't get that. That's OK though since both guys brought their A game and Takada wasn't stalling here and Hase was his great self albeit a bit of a heel/Choshu mode which was very cool because Takada seemed quite vulnerable. Just an awesome match with great performances by both men and a match that goes on their highlight reel. Takada was really getting in a rut in the summer of '87 save a couple matches. This is an awesome match and shows Takada really wanting to go out of NJPW with a bang. Another piece of evidence that the UWF guys or Takada at least was best against NJPW guys. It allowed him to fluff off their "fake wrestling" offence, allowed them to really put over the holds as near-finishes since they weren't experienced "shooters." It provided unorthodox sequences and rope running scenarios and they made so much out of the "fake" offence when it did connect. No one's style was discredited as they were simply different points on the same continuum. Classic match here...
Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase vs Bam Bam Bigelow & Vader (03/01/92 NJPW): I read that people say this match isnt very good but, shit! I thought it was fantastic. The timing and near finishes were just awesome. You knew the hope spots were going to be there but, wow! This was just an awesome match that should be on every one of these guys Best Of comps. The stand-outs were Hase and Vader. The segments they had were just great stuff and very stiff. Vader was just punishing throughout and Bigelow and Mutoh were the charismatic ones who put the flashy bits in. Everything was hitting just right. Like I said maybe this is a case of low expectations and being surprised but I really enjoyed this. Another classic.
Shinya Hashimoto vs. Hiroshi Hase (12/13/94 NJPW): Now, this really is the match I was hoping it would be. It could probably be up there with 6/12/86 and 8/8/88 as the bench marks of Strong Style. This was the modern version so, it wasn't as pure or as outright compelling as those two but, WCW Japan (NJPW) was no longer neck and neck with AJPW in terms of match quality. I would put this next to Chono vs Mutoh at the innagural G1 Climax final. It's really that good. Hash has no problem being brutal as I've come to see but, here it escalates and transitions with drama. Each guy really is giving it his all. It's also clear how good a wrestler Hase. Hash may have many qualities but, he lacks something that really shoots this match into perfect all time must see 5 star territory.
So, this might be a continuation of Hashimoto Strong Style but for all intents and purposes this was about as "halcyon King's Road" as I've seen NJ get in both work & length. That's confusing but, whatever it was a classic bout!
Steiner Brothers vs. Keiji Muto & Hiroshi Hase (01/04/95 NJPW): The best of their matches that I've seen. I could tell from the get go that the Steiners were taking this one seriously. Mutoh was awesome here as the fire plug MF'er that we wish he always could've been. The basic strikes were never the Steiners strong suit (either too soft or near legit) but, if you can get past that it's an awesome tag match. If they were reasonably stiff then this would be a near classic but as it is I'll call it great. A great pay-off & totally unexpected finish.
Hiroshi Hase vs Kenta Kobashi (8/26/97 AJPW): This was such an awesome match. Hase was in top form here. He instilled the direction and psychology of the bout. Knowing that Kobashi is at the top of the food chain in All Japan, Hase set on out-wrestling and disabling Kobashi's legs. The Orange Crush could only really react to Hases offense. This in a sense gave Hase the credibility he needed to challenge Kenta but, in another sense kept this from being a 5 star match. Kobashi did not have a game plan and he got out of his depth as the former Olympian was wrestling circles around him. This may be the in-match story and it certainly deserves a re-watch with this in mind. With all of that being said, this was a fantastic match. It was an older style, very competitive mat based match with perfect pacing and execution. Although Kobashi was excellent, his selling of the leg damage could have been better. Hase was absolutely superb though. He showed vulnerability yet strength in overcoming the pain and fatigue. This is completely what I had hoped for and more.
I'd like to dig deeper into Hase in '88 as well as '99-'02 AJPW stuff. I've got a lot of projects already lined up but, I'm sure I'll make time